Architecture

Hue Apartments

March 27, 2009

Within the semi industrial environment of Richmond, Melbourne, the Hue apartments unites both indoor and outdoor spaces to create a hybrid residential block.

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The design of the recently completed Hue apartments by Jackson Clements Burrows is strongly influenced by the urban setting. This setting is in a state of change: old Richmond to the new consolidated inner city. As in many parts of Melbourne, the urban fabric is changing from predominantly industrial to residential and from lower to higher density residential. In this piece-by-piece regeneration, each new structure or space must respond to the ‘now’ of the surrounding environment, both physical and social, as well as to the unknown future environment. Jackson Clements Burrows has created a self-contained site: an autonomous system that sits within an austere semi industrial environment, as described by Graham Burrows. He is referring to the site which was a factory, now demolished, but still enclosed on either side by industrial buildings. Across the narrow road the ragged backyard fences of single-storey residences line the street. While very close to Bridge Road, this is a tough location to attract a new residential market. In response, the development creates its own edges and ‘holds in’ its amenity of indoor and outdoor spaces. The idea for a green belt around the building is almost fully achieved, including a green, planted screen wall on the north boundary, which will remain after the adjoining building is redeveloped. The delineation of an autonomous new place may be necessary to make a marketable package, yet a series of self-contained pieces do not make a city. So how does this building answer to the demands of marketability as well as responding to a vision for the future and a new urbanity?

Hue is a hybrid block of varied and interlocked apartment sizes and types. The long, modular north and south façades function to control the movement of sun and fresh air through the living spaces, the architecture enabling the control of internal temperature to minimise energy use. The cladding overall is a warm and well-detailed, dark-stained cedar timber. In the building cross-section the efficiency of the planning is evident with minimum corridor circulation space and well-designed private outdoor spaces, such as the ground floor courtyards to the townhouses and partly enclosed balconies to the apartments. I understand the desire on the part of developers to minimise circulation space that is shared and does not contribute to the title area. In addition, it is space that needs to be managed in common, usually through some form of body corporate, and this aspect of apartment living can, understandably, concern a buyer. My own view is that this perception works against good design in higher density housing. I don’t necessarily advocate large areas of open external space, as in our commission housing in the past, although this space has proved to be a useful land bank, but shared space in apartment living – such as open entry areas, circulation spaces and landings – can be very positive. It promotes social interaction, is more welcoming to visitors and creates a more open and safer environment.

Nevertheless, in this development the clever arrangement of saleable areas and a generous allocation of site footprint to the shared entry space on the south make the most of the site. The retention of a setback space at the front of the building, which in the previous use was car parking, was also judged to be worthwhile. These two spaces, one public and framed by the street façade and one for shared movement and social interaction, are important in considering the question posed about the future urbanity of the precinct.

The front garden is small, but it is landscaped, public and accessible. For a private development this is a generous contribution to the street and adds to the street’s future viability as a pedestrian pathway to shops and transport links. This kind of setback could be gradually replicated on other sites, eventually linking to create a much better street environment. The building itself is set on an angle, a slight twist, against the orthogonal streets and boundaries, creating an opened up and slightly warped view from the street of the north side façade. The angle has the additional benefit of improving views and, on the south, access to sunlight. A similar idea of ambiguous fit seems to inform the design of the street façade, the composition for which is based on work by the artist Matthew Johnston. Johnston’s art inspired the elevation, an idea that is echoed through the building layers. The façade appears in the street like an abstract urban artwork and its indeterminate scale and playfulness mask what lies behind. Burrows points out that a conventional composition of windows and balconies would have been incongruous here, apart also from issues of overlooking. The façade makes sense because it works as a transition from the harder industrial context towards a softer, friendlier use, while still holding its own in the tough street.

In imagining the regeneration of this precinct one can see the south entry space acting as another type of street, continuing beyond the site, linking up with other sites as a view and light corridor, and perhaps also as a pedestrian corridor. This is possible because it was decided to not use the end of the space as a private outdoor court for the last apartment. This is a commercially difficult decision, but enlightened if one views the development as a whole. It should be noted here that this project had a sophisticated, architecture-trained client. How can architects better convince investors in property to build for future unknown or shared activities and functions? These may be social spaces, perhaps focused on the street, or space to grow food. It may seem extravagant now, but things change quickly. Just how quickly was shown in this development where water collection and storage was omitted by the developer because, at the time, it was not a selling point.

Good architecture always looks beyond the immediate functional requirements and beyond the self-contained needs of one building to think about buildings and the spaces around them as part of numerous larger systems. I think this development is admirable for the extent to which it does just this, while also succeeding in creating high quality private places.

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